As a San Francisco 49ers fan for the past thirty years, I never thought I would write that headline. But I’m rooting against the team tonight, for the rest of the season, and for as long as Mike Singletary is head coach. The reason is simple: He’s an embarrassment to the franchise.
First, let me say I was doubtful Singletary would be a good fit for the Niners from the start. The Chicago Bears’ style of smash-mouth football in which Singletary flourished was the opposite of the thinking-person's approach to the game that the Niners mastered under Bill Walsh. Walsh’s respect for nuance and attention to detail remain unrivaled to this day. Da’ Bears during Singletary’s years, by contrast, were a throwback to the ol’ three yards and a cloud of dust.
Still, I admired Singletary as a defensive star, and hoped he would surprise as a coach. He has not, and last week’s brouhaha over a Yahoo sports news story proves why. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Ninerland was in an uproar over Yahoo’s story about communication breakdowns involving the team’s once vaunted offense.
In a nutshell, the piece quoted anonymous team sources, alleging that the team couldn’t launch offensive plays last week, because Niners offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye garbles his speech. According to the story, the problem wasn’t noticeable last year, because Raye relayed the plays to quarterback Alex Smith through an assistant coach who was used to Raye’s style of talking and could easily interpret what he was saying. But Singletary then replaced that intermediary this year with a new person who couldn’t decipher what play Raye was calling.
When questioned about the story, Singletary became unhinged, and seemed to only want to vent about the “rat” who talked to Yahoo sports. But that’s not what bothered me. Instead, it was a telling nugget in the Yahoo story that has gone mostly unnoticed. That is, Singletary himself also listens in on the plays that Raye calls and he couldn't decipher them either. But not because of the way Raye talks. It’s because Singletary, the story reported, “isn’t an X’s and O’s guy and doesn’t know what a correct play call would be compared to an incorrect call.” In short, he doesn’t really know the offensive plays.
Think about that for a moment. The head coach of what was once the greatest offense in the history of football doesn’t know his own team’s offensive plays. The heir to the Walsh dynasty, a team that won five Super Bowls on the strength of its innovative style of offense, apparently has no interest in what made those teams so great.
As I said, it’s an embarrassment. And it’s untenable. How can a head coach demand respect and commitment from his players when he won’t even take the time to learn the offensive plays?
Now you might argue that Singletary was hired for his defensive expertise. And while that’s true, many other defensive coaches who have become successful head coaches have at least taken the time to learn the whole playbook. You think that Bill Belichick of the Patriots or Rex Ryan of the Jets don’t know their team’s offensive plays? And what about former Niners defensive coordinator George Seifert? When he took over for Walsh, he delegated the offensive play-calling to Mike Holmgren, and later, to Mike Shanahan. Still, Seifert at least understood what plays they were calling.
It’s clear. Singletary is the wrong head coach for the 49ers. And as long as he’s in that role, I’ll be rooting for the other team to win. With enough losses, management might finally wake up and hire a head coach who will carry on the team’s storied tradition — or at the least show interest in what half of his football team is doing.